Emily Pointer is a melanoma survivor. At 29 years old, she became concerned about a mole on her leg that had changed appearance and started to flake. A few months later, she was diagnosed with stage one melanoma. Emily spoke to us about the early signs she spotted, how her skin cancer was diagnosed and treated, and what life is like now as a melanoma survivor.
CH: "What was your relationship with sun care earlier in life?"
EP: "I have childhood memories of being on vacation with my family and being the one who always burned. I've never been a sun-seeker though, and I have always opted for the shade. I've also never used [tanning beds] and never laid out in the sun, ever. I just knew that it wasn't right for my fair skin, and I don't tan very well."
CH: "What was your knowledge of skin cancer prevention? Were you aware of the risks?"
EP: "I was never particularly concerned about it, even though my skin is fair. I always associated skin cancer with people who have lots of raised moles, and I've only ever had freckles. But I was aware that it was something to watch out for, and I have always worn [SPF 30] sun protection everywhere."
CH: "Where did you find your melanoma, and how did you discover it?"
EP: "I noticed a very small, regular mole on my leg which was slightly raised. It stuck out more, became darker in color, and started to flake. I probably spent about six months thinking, 'Oh. that's a bit weird.' Then one day, a bit of it completely flaked off, and I knew I needed to get it checked out."
"I made an appointment with my doctor and she checked my mole against the criteria for skin cancer. She said she would be concerned if it was an irregular shape, or if it started to change or grow. After examining my mole, she said she thought it was fine. She actually sent me away and said not to worry about it."
"Then six months later, it was still flaking, so I went back to the doctor. I thought something was wrong and that it just wasn't quite right. The doctor, slightly reluctantly, referred me to the dermatology department in Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London to get it checked out. They were also slightly doubtful, but they agreed to biopsy it."
"The results came back and they confirmed that it was a stage one melanoma. The doctors were extremely surprised, but I'm very glad I proceeded with my concern. It was hard because the doctor was only following procedure in how they assess moles, and based on their four-point basis, mine didn't look that bad. But I knew it wasn't right for my skin even though it looked perhaps normal to somebody else."
CH: "How was the melanoma treated once it was diagnosed?"
EP: "After the initial biopsy, they took out the entire mole. I then had to go back into the hospital and they cut out a centimeter-sized area around the initial biopsy, which left a little dip in my calf. They then tested that and luckily it came back fine. I think as the melanoma was stage one, this was more of a precaution but obviously one that needed to be taken."
"After that, I went into the hospital every three months or so, and they checked all my freckles, moles, and felt all of my lymph nodes to make sure there wasn't any swelling. I did that for about 18 months after the initial biopsy. I found this really reassuring, and the NHS were incredible. I was discharged after that."
CH: "Did you have any pain or scarring from where the mole was removed?"
EP: "My skin heals really badly and I scar really easily, so for a year afterward it looked pretty horrible. When they take out that much skin and stitch you back up, it's actually quite a strain on the skin. You can actually see where the stitches were holding my skin together. But in terms of pain, it was okay. I was given a local anesthetic and felt a bit of discomfort. Apart from having the stitches removed, it's been fine."
CH: "What advice would you give to people who may be going through the same thing?
EP: "I would say always follow your instincts because you know your skin best. If you're worried about something, just get it checked out. You've really got to look after your own skin, know what's normal for you, and get it checked out—and be firm if you suspect something is wrong. If you already have a diagnosis, trust in your doctor and get as much information from them about it."
CH: "How would you say this experience has shaped your life? Has it changed your perception of your health?"
EP: "The treatment itself didn't really affect me—I felt really normal and numb to it and not that concerned. I think my family around me was more worried, but I felt that I was in safe hands. I actually had another mole checked just recently, and I'm now just very conscious of monitoring my own skin and wearing sun protection."
"It's made me realize that I thought of cancer as being something that happens to other people, but actually, it's quite a normal part of most people's lives. I was lucky that my melanoma was stage one, I guess. It could have been a very different story if it was stage two."
Skin Care Starts and Ends With You
Emily's story makes two great points about caring for your skin. The first is that Doctors and Dermatologists are always available to help you if you reach out. The second—and perhaps the more important one—is that you need to stay vigilant and know your own body. Nobody else will recognize changes in your skin as well as you can, and they certainly won't police you about preventing the sun damage that causes skin cancer in the first place.
Remember: While EltaMD sun care products are available to guard your skin against UV exposure every day, you are your best skin care advocate.